At our BMT Conference in Chicago last September, I gave a talk called, “Controlling Your Inner Micromanager”. I have found that most people feel the urge to micromanage in at least some situations at work or home.
I define micromanagement as providing more management than necessary. In other words, the task would get done and the results would be fine with less direction and oversight than you are currently providing. Receiving too much direction and oversight is generally punishing for most people.
Micromanaging is highly reinforcing for the micromanager in the short term because we know what is happening and we get to control the direction. However, it often creates long term damage. People who are micromanaged feel frustrated, don’t get the opportunity to learn, don’t feel empowered or engaged, are afraid of making decisions, and they generally don’t like the micromanager. It’s a recipe for mediocre effort and poor relationships in the long term.
The alternative, thoughtful and strategic leadership, produces less immediate reinforcement. When things are chugging along smoothly, direct reports don’t often feel compelled to compliment their boss on their more hands-off leadership approach. In fact, they are probably crediting themselves for their success. Thoughtful, strategic leaders must learn to derive reinforcement indirectly by seeing their people be successful.
How do you know if you are micromanaging? Here are a few telltale signs:
- You devote a lot of time to other people’s projects
- You get aggravated when people don’t run things by you
- You feel frustrated when people do things “their way”
- You know many details about other people’s projects or feel anxious if you don’t have all of the details
- You feel like you are busier than everyone else
- You have hundreds of emails in your inbox and most of them are your people ccing you
If you are afraid you might be micromanaging, here are some steps you can take to move in the other direction.
- Tell your people you are guilty of micromanaging, apologize, and tell them you want to do better and need their help.
- Ask your people to tell you when you are micromanaging, send anonymous surveys to get some honest responses, and ask them each time you speak about a task if you micromanaged.
- Arrange your environment so that you can’t get into the weeds. Don’t attend the meetings of other people’s projects, ask for a high level summary instead of seeing the whole report, etc.
- Book time into your schedule to be thoughtful and strategic.
- Leave more choices up to your direct reports.
- Back off the amount of direction you give, delegate more, and see what happens.
- Spend time with your people developing the relationship and asking them how you can help them.
- If you aren’t sure if something might be micromanagement, don’t do it. Wait and see what happens. If the situation arises again and you are still unhappy, you can do something then.
Of course, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t spend time leading and coaching your people. I am just suggesting that when you do spend time with them, you spend it on things that add value for both of you and strengthen the relationship.
You can listen to an edited down version of my talk on micromanagement here.